Category Archives: higher education

The Horror & Freedom of Empty Space

If you find yourself in downtown Riverside, be sure to drop by the second floor of Riverside Library’s Main Branch – it’s right next door to The Historic Mission Inn Hotel and Spa.  And since this flash is space and place based, it occupies the future home of the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art, Culture and Industry – let’s hope a battle does not flare up over the omitted Oxford Comma here…what fun we have with words about space, over time.

Or maybe it does not and will not. A few votes could wreck all that…

A vote (scroll to bottom to see how everyone voted, and where to send your comments) by two Riverside City Council members brought us to this day.  Fresh faced new member Chuck Conder took a gander and then took a “no way” vote.  Recently re-elected Jim Perry followed suite.  When I came across this display while enjoying story time with dozens of other parents and kids, I found the emptiness a suitable image for the state of things.

free your mind exhibit

It begs the question:  Is something empty really empty?  For instance, as the “new home” for the Library waits for one more “yes” vote from the city council, what sits in that empty lot?  What is it about an empty pedestal that sparks a thought?  Who is to say what belongs in the space?  And how much is too much?  What is the correct price tag?  Would your answer be at all contingent upon economic status, race, age, or interest?  Of course it would.  Each of us would probably put something different on that stand.  And we all would have solid reasons for doing so.  And frustration when anything but our vision appears before our eyes.

But that’s the horror of the empty space. While you study it, it studies you back.  Matches you glare for glare, each moment you try to keep the space a void, it’s power over you only grows stronger.  That empty space will follow you everywhere you go.  It will only relent when you replace it with something else.

On Tuesday Oct 3rd, the debate renews at Riverside City Council (links to agenda).  I will be there voicing my support for the $40 million investment in a community service that touches nearly every citizen in the city.  This is one of the few resources that categorically and apolitically support education and learning.  Let’s see if a city of 300,000 can muster the support.  I’m really not sure it can.

 

Some minutia for those who follow Riverside news –

 

For Riversiders -here is where to send messages of support for the new library

https://riversideca.legistar.com/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=563820&GUID=FB317AEC-6E8C-4441-B133-7AA035184589&Search=

council agenda 10-3

Then click “eComment” link near middle of screen. Next, SCROLL TO #31 (MAIN LIBRARY), select “SUPPORT” and add comments.

Here is the link to your own councilperson

http://www.riversideca.gov/council/

And here is what that page looks like. Each one has a link to email and phone.

riverside city council list

Here is how city council voted earlier this month. You can talk to any or all of them, not just “your guy” 😊

 

Mike Gardner – Yes – Mike responds fast. He corrected me on a mistake I made – he talks to people who agree and who disagree with him.

Andy Melendrez – Abstain. Rumor has it his property nearby is over 500 feet away, so he can vote on this if he wants. I tried to confirm this fact with his office. No response. My last four messages to his office went unanswered – two on measure Z and my two on this issue – so good luck. Side note, this is my councilperson and yours if you live in Ward 2.

Mike Soubirous – Yes. Another person who responds, even when you disagree with him.

Chuck Conder – No.  Appears to be a pretty strong no.

Chris MacArthur – Yes.

Jim Perry – No. But, he did respond within minutes of my message to him asking to reconsider. He says he is working on a solution.

Steve Adams – Newly appointed. Was the previous councilmember here as well. Hope he votes yes but I am not confident on that.

 

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Filed under economic development, higher education, leadership, literacy, things to do in riverside, Uncategorized, writing

Will You Be a First Responder to ITT Tech Students?

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Teaching and college administration has been my calling for well over a decade. From 2005-2009, I fulfilled that passion at ITT Technical Institute. When I read the news today, that they were no more, my first thought was, “Good! This is long overdue.” It was quickly followed by, “What will happen to all those students?” I am going to put aside the analysis of all the bad things done under the banner of higher education while the colors of ITT Tech flew high upon the helm.  I am not going to think about the fortunes gained and lost by shareholders, employees, and taxpayers.  Today, I want to talk about that secondary concern…the students.

Now that the school is closed, where will these students finish their education?  As outlined, some will seek loan forgiveness, some will drop out, the rest will seek a new college. My hope is that most of them will find another college. My fear is that many that wish to finish somewhere else, will find that there is no room at the inn.  State and private schools have record numbers of applications and not enough seats to accept them.  A similar scenario for different reasons awaits them if they remain in the market driven college realm. Those systems have experienced significant slowdowns, with several meeting the same fate as ITT Tech, or operating as a much smaller college.

If you are like me, you look at that data and ask yourself – “What can I do about this?” My brief answer, in two parts:

  1. I will prepare myself to meet more students who have had a negative education experience, or hear more negative than positive these days regarding college overall. It is more than school closures – it is noticeable safety issues, degrees with few marketable skills, high debt, the list is truly without end. When I hear these issues in class, I will actively listen and not try to defend. I will facilitate understanding.
  2. I will support local movements that seek to meet with students and provide options to them. Even though these students are not “mine”, I am pledging my willingness to educate any one of these affected students. I will do so formally through my University, but also ask other education leaders in the region what can be done. I think about the RED teams that a city will dispatch to court an employer or secure a regulation that will facilitate solid job creation and economic development.

I choose these two actions because they are within my area of control. I proudly work as an associate professor at University of Phoenix. I have been active in causes supporting business and education for two decades in and around Riverside, CA.

One thing I teach first year students is that they need to assess their skills and abilities, then apply them to the problem at hand. I can imagine no better service to students than to follow my own advice and work tirelessly until I make a positive difference in their lives and help them reach their career and academic goals.

What will you do? #ITTTechstudents

Note – Bruce Baron and the San Bernardino Community College District are already doing great work, see the article here

 

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Filed under classroom management, college teaching, employment, higher education, leadership, training, Uncategorized

Full Time or Adjunct? Which one is better for students?

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First, let me confess my bias:  I was hired as a full time faculty member with University of Phoenix back in February of 2015*. Prior to that, I spent the previous decade as a full time college administrator and an adjunct faculty member. I like being fully engaged in higher ed.

Is full time better for ME? You bet! But it’s not about me, cupcake, it’s about the students.  So, is it better for students? What’s happening in higher education.  Moves by Maricopa Community College District tells part of the story.  For the rest, join me, won’t you, for a few minutes in the classroom.

New college students must overcome external obstacles, internal doubts, and regular distractions from their studies if they wish to be successful (ie, graduate college and progress in their career). While those barriers are typically within their control, it helps to have someone in their corner.

Nearly all of the adjuncts I know are pressed for time. They usually have a full time job. In a growing number of instances, an adjunct may work for a half dozen schools, stringing together a bunch of courses to get them as close as they can to full employment.

What happens outside the classroom has a significant effect on the goings on inside the walls, or your CPU for those online educators. Day one, students respond positively to both backgrounds. In my experience, they are most interested in my work as a writer and literary advocate. Those in the job hunt, and really, if you are in college, you ARE in the job hunt, appreciate my two decades of employment, placement, and career development experience. What matters again is not my experiences, but how I present them that first day that matters.

My solution to the dilemma is to try and understand my audience and my purpose walking into that room or logging in for day one. When that is a consistent part of my practice, the student benefits. And I think that was why I meandered onto this career path in the first place.

Feel fee to share your own experiences, as teachers or students. I would like to profile others in a future post. Thanks!

 

*To add another layer, I was laid off in April 2016. I am now an Associate Faculty member at University of Phoenix…aka Adjunct.

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Filed under belief, classroom management, college teaching, employment, higher education, Uncategorized

What is Your Sophomore Year?

What is Your Sophomore Year?

dragon from galway

Over the rest of 2016, my top writing project will be the completion of a book covering a year of significant change.  In my art and my writing, I often choose places of significant conflict. This is not always negative but it does capture the struggle between competing ideas or paths. For example, when I was laid off from my super cool full time college professor job, I faced a choice:  Double down on the life changes so far and modify them to work in the new schedule. Or, jump off this teacher track, chalk up this as an interesting life experience and hustle my butt back into an administrative role at another college.  The choice my wife and I settled upon resembles option one.  Which aligned with my writing goal to complete a book on the second year of a new experience.

Why the second year? And why call it the Sophomore Year?

The Sophomore Year appears following a year of significant change in life circumstances or approach.  Adding a member to the family can count, as could losing a family member.  Marriage could hearken a sophomore year. After a year of excitement and announcement and pomp and ritual, that second year can feel flat.  For that wedding year, prior to that you have the engagement.  And before that you have plenty of talk about the engagement. There is so much to look forward to. We create milestones and products to wear/buy and things to do and say to one another – “I take thee” “I do”.  More people than ever take part in that ritual and enjoy that initial feeling of goodness. That feeling generates internally and externally. Internally, we feel validated and part of the community because we can take part in a common shared ritual that we all accept and understand.  The external motivation comes from the universal positive reinforcement of our choice.  Note that even the government will confer benefits for choosing marriage, perhaps they even provide some sophomore solutions themselves, such as long term investment in shared property and child raising.

Emily Post even gives you up to a year to get out those thank you letters after the wedding. They know just how fun filled and activity ridden that first year can be.  But after a year, usually a routine has set in. In 2015, I left a decade of college administration leadership to blaze a new trail down the academic side of the hill. A perfect new baby came into my life at the end of 2014. By the Summer of 2016, I was laid off from my job, moving me back into an Associate Professor role. By mid-summer, I was one of 33 artists in a 2 month long installation of new artists at Riverside Art Museum. At the end of 2016, I will celebrate five years of marriage to my second (or last, or current as I sometimes say) wife. Needless to say, my second year has been full of peaks and valleys. The paths leading to and from these milestones can be good or bad for my growth.

What is the second year routine? That is a question worthy of exploration.  The topics under this large umbrella are many – work, philosophy, friendship, love, parenting, teaching, volunteering – so the trick is to find ways these weave together in a way that provides greater understanding of what some of us are trying to do, or become, or merely learn, as we toddle our way towards new milestones.

 

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Filed under art, college teaching, critical thinking, higher education, Uncategorized, writing

Looking for Stories

Metrics!  No matter your job, there are data available to validate, educate, or eliminate you!  A solid organization will utilize all three purposes while managing the people side of the operation. During my decade in higher education, “educate” would seem a natural fit, but metrics applied in higher education can make people wonder just what they taught us at our alma maters.

If you were ever a college student, you know that the preferred method of gathering metrics from students is through the end of course survey.  One concern is that they tend to attract your most ardent supporters and frustrated detractors.  To be fair, that is an unscientific opinion supported by personal experience over several years.  I would be pleasantly surprised to find otherwise, so if there is good evidence to the contrary, please let me know.

A second concern has to do with the psychological effect looking at my scores has on me.  As much as I say and believe that I am not competitive, I sure find plenty of evidence to the contrary. Since I teach a class on thinking critically about data, I should know better. Actually, I do know better.  I also know that if Vegas ever offers betting options on what motivates decisions – emotions or evidence – put your kid’s college fund on “emotion”. But I look at the score, then immediately see how my score compares with the University average. Above average means I have been validated and I am a great teacher and should keep on keepin’ on. Below average and I may need to revise my syllabus, dust off the CV, or both.

Now that I teach several times per week instead of a few times per year, I am on campus a good deal. Which means I get to run into students from my early courses on a regular basis.  I like these student interactions because they tell a story better than the data sets.  As someone who teachers with a philosophy that we all enjoy stories and should tailor our communications to that reality, it makes sense for me.

Recently I ran into three students from three different classes on the same day!  First, I enjoyed the fact that enough of my students persisted through their early coursework in order for me to run into them!  Second, I remembered two of their names!  More importantly, the short conversations we had between classes left me feeling that I am making a difference.  One talked about his tough but survivable Math class, and how it related to some of our discussion topics in English. The other warned me that there are still plenty of teachers still doing the “Death by PowerPoint” thing.  He said if the military could not break him with months of jargon-filled slides, an occasional four hour session of them was not going to stop him either.  The third conversation was the most supportive and it came from a student that really did not like my class all that much.  We talked about work stuff and parted with a friendly handshake.

All three interactions came about by chance.  A chance that happened only because they chose to stick with the program and I chose to be out and about at my campus.  For me, it was validating.  To see them still at it, to see they wanted to continue the conversation long after they had to, helps me understand my goal as a professor.  It is not to get a higher score than my peers. If I truly wish to help them “Rise”, I must make it a point to see them, and hear them, long after they have passed my class.

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Filed under college teaching, critical thinking, higher education, metrics, UOPX

How We Teach Students About Values

College campuses are getting a good deal of attention these days. In fact, we always have something to bemoan about our school systems. Why? One reason is because it is a generally shared experience. However, on close inspection, the education experience will vary for people based upon things that may not align with our values.

One of our values is enshrined in our Declaration of Independance: the “pursuit of Happiness”. The assumption is that this is our own happiness, but we often pursue the happiness of others. Sometimes this is good, such as when we help someone rise and they take us with them. Or we work under someone, help them be successful, then we get to have their job when they promote or move on.  Too often, we allow systems to impede that happiness. If we value the pursuit of happiness, we are obligated to remove as many obstacles as we can. Doing so benefits ourselves and others.

With the holidays at hand (some would argue that we have been in the holiday season since Halloween), and New Year’s nipping at its heels, it is natural and healthy to reflect on our schools. I would recommend this activity with a caveat – ignore your campus mission statement. Those will always align with your values.  Choose a bigger challenge; you are a seasoned professional and are up to the task.

I recently spoke with a student in an accelerated master’s program.  He loved his teachers and felt the peers in the class were great to work alongside.  However, when he signed up for his evening program, no one mentioned he would need to take day classes to fulfill his electives.  No small obstacle when your target market is working adults.  Now, did the college commit a lie of omission, or did the student selectively not hear that detail?  Reasonable people will disagree here.

Thank goodness we are not trying to solve THAT problem.  Instead, take this example and apply it to your school. Why? Because most of us cannot change the big things at our schools, but we can affect the little things.  How we communicate, what we communicate, and when we share all will either keep a student on track or contribute to his or her failure.   Whatever we pursue in our careers, it is usually in our interest to find ways to improve the path for others.  At the very least, we should not knowingly set traps for those who rely upon us to teach them from a place of truth.  We can do this, we can live this.

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Filed under college teaching, critical thinking, higher education, Uncategorized

Let’s Get to Work

In the Introductory Course Sequence, my students and I face reality head on. We do not leave our families, our jobs, and our fears-hopes-dreams behind when we cross the threshold and enter the class environment. This is no day spa where we can forget our troubles and catch up with friends. It’s no cone of silence – our needy cell phones and responsibilities check in on us constantly.

Reality? Attending classes at night, before or after a full day of work, students tell me it feels like they’ve taken on a part-time job. For nearly every student in this situation, it is a job that only pays at the end of the project…if that project gets completed. Statistically, many don’t make it to payday. Who Doesn’t Make it? For our purposes, way too many.

Meaning? It means the environment matters. The way we construct and safeguard our class space – consider the technology we choose, to relatively sound-proof rooms, even the trashcan must be considered – creates the desired head-space so we can all think critically, write clearly, and plan effectively.

Those colleges that choose to be the best, to be the college of choice and not the college of last resort, will put a priority on productive space.  I’m saying the classroom environment is very much a work space.Let’s get to work is an apt phrase, precisely describing our space and collective attitude. A good work space seeks appropriate light (more natural=more better), places to stand and sit (and options to move seats and tables quickly) and cool air when it is hot/hot air when it is not.

Making good use of the clock counts big. Having more than enough activities and discussion topics and exercises shows respect for the work space. Students deserve engaging content.  Colleges must create and deliver on this requirement to survive.

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Filed under career, college teaching, higher education